Raising An Only Child
“Call me a terrible mother. I have an only child.” “A general picture emerges that only children are loners, misfits and always, always selfish. I don’t buy it.” These are quotes are from a New York Times article entitled Only Children-Lonely and Selfish? that discusses the misinformed negative view of having an only child, and the actual positive effects of raising a child without siblings. The article goes on to show that “in hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits — including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, and contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings. “An endless body of research shows that only children are, in fact, no more self-involved than anyone else,” and that “the differences between only children and those raised with siblings tend to be positive ones.” Contrary to the idea that only children are lonelier, it seems that children without siblings do better alone and in the company of adults. Also, the article explains that “research suggests that only children experience more intense emotional family lives. The parental gaze is more focused; the love more concentrated.”
As the mom of an only child, I could relate to this article. The emotional family life is more intense. I can see this as potentially more positive or more negative for my child. On the one hand, she receives all the attention any child could hope for; on the other hand, it’s hard to escape the glare of the spotlight. For this reason I encourage more trips and sleepovers with family friends than I would if I had more children, sometimes for as long as a week or two. I feel like it’s the least I can do to give her a break. During these stays with other families, she gets to experience what it’s like to have a lot of siblings around and to compete for limited resources! She usually comes home full of stories about the different personalities, all the fun and chaos, but is clearly grateful for the peace that she knows and cherishes.
Only children do tend to interact well with adults which makes sense–they get a lot of practice. This is one reason our family friends invite her to come along on trips. The difficult part for me is that I inadvertently play the role of mom and sister. It’s hard to avoid. She comes home from a party and inevitably wants to stay up talking with me. I listen while she talks about clothes, friend-drama, popularity, boys, hair, etc. These are all topics I shared with my siblings as I grew up, not my mom. She can discuss all of these topics with her girlfriends, but the confidentiality is something that a sister can offer and a 14 year old girl often cannot. In middle school, friendships are constantly shifting and girls can be downright mean. Most teen girls haven’t yet learned how to be a good friend. So I offer the confidentiality and safety that a sister might offer. It’s nice to know what’s going on in her life, but it can add a level of intensity that moms with more than one child circumvent.
My advice for moms with an only child who hire a nanny: make sure the nanny is actively engaged, is wholesome, emotionally mature and a good role model, is sensitive to your child’s current and ongoing developmental stages, and will hopefully stay with you long term. Because you have an only, the nanny may have a larger influence on your child and become more of a confidante than if your child had siblings. I have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy facilitating and supporting my child’s social and extended family ties because she is an only. They say our sibling relationships are the longest relationships we’ll ever have. The nanny may ultimately become like a sister or aunt. The relationship could last for your child’s lifetime. Choose carefully.
To get more tips on child development, parenting and hiring and retaining a nanny go to: www.safeandsoundnannies.com
Dr. Ann Wycoff is founder of Safe and Sound Nannies, a full service agency.